toddler adjusting to new baby

Preparing for a new baby is a lot of work. When you already have a child, trying to prepare your toddler for a new baby adds even more work to this process.

Sure, you need diapers, wipes, and to wash and sort out all the baby clothes, but now you also need to convince your toddler that you aren’t replacing them with a newer model. 

Ideally, you want to start preparing your toddler before your new baby’s arrival. That gives you time to set the stage and prepare gradually.

However, most of the real leg work for preparing your toddler occurs after that you bring the new baby home. So, if your new baby is already on the scene, don’t worry.

In fact, when I was researching keywords for this article, one of the Google suggestions was “Toddler hates new baby.” If you wouldn’t describe the relationship between your toddler and your new baby as “full of hate,” you’re already doing better than many! 

tips for preparing toddler for a new baby pin image

Before the new baby’s arrival, prepare your toddler for what’s going to happen

While you have welcomed a new baby before (obviously, that’s why you have a toddler), your toddler has not. Like rational thought and TV that doesn’t include cartoons, this is completely foreign territory to your toddler.

A few months in advance, start explaining to them that they are getting a new baby sibling. Hype up the fact that they will soon be a big brother or sister. Talk about all the fun things they’ll get to do with their new baby sibling. Get them excited!

Toddlers love stories, so reading books is a great way to prepare your toddler for a new baby.

A few stories about becoming big siblings we have loved are:

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I’m a New Big Brother – We love this book. My grandparents gave this to my second-born before we had our third. It’s longer than your basic board books, but not too long.

I’m a Big Brother! – I believe this one’s out of print, but two different people gave it to us with our oldest (the main character shares his name) and it’s great. You can still find very cheap used copies on Amazon in great condition.

I’m a Big Brother (or its companion, I’m a Big Sister — with four sons, we haven’t ever tried the companion book!)

Once Upon a Baby Brother -This is actually a longer book that’s geared toward preschool and up, but it’s still a great one to have on hand for working through younger-sibling jealousy as your toddler ages.)

This Big Brother Coloring & Activity Book would also be a great gift for your toddler after the new baby’s arrival

Have your toddler play pretend baby

Another really helpful tool is a baby doll. If your child doesn’t already have one, get one. It’s a great way to help your toddler practice caring gently for a new baby. It’s also a very tangible way to help them understand what’s about to happen.

toddler feeding baby doll to prepare for new baby

Related: It’s also a great way to terrify you as you watch them swing their baby doll haphazardly around by the neck. (See actual photo below of one of my children for proof.)

Preparing toddler for a new baby
Prepare your toddler for the new baby or this could happen 😉

A word to the wise, if your child doesn’t already have one: choose your dolls carefully. My boys have the world’s creepiest-looking baby doll and we hate it. When we stumble upon this baby doll unexpectedly, it feels like a scene from a horror movie (see photo below).

Picture of a baby doll to use to prepare toddler
See? It’s creepy, bordering on satanic.

If I were buying dolls for my boys (I didn’t choose their current baby doll), I’d go with these because they’re a good size, there’s a boy and a girl, and they don’t look demon-possessed. 

TV Shows 

During your pregnancy, you probably started relying more on TV than before. Morning sickness and fatigue hit hard in those early months. Then, by the time you’re 500-weeks pregnant, everything is hard because you’re house-sized and things are starting to orbit around you.

TV can provide the break you need from playing with your toddler because pretend play is the worst you are justifiably exhausted.

Put that extra screen time to good use by showing your toddler cartoons that will help him or her prepare for the new baby. Here are a few we’ve found really helpful in our house over the years:

Daniel Tiger – Season 2, Episodes 1-4 are all about Daniel’s mother being pregnant, having a new baby, and adjusting to life with a new baby. 

Sesame Street – Preparing for a new baby has been a subject on this show multiple times, but Season 20, in particular, made it a feature throughout the season.

That story line started with episode #2558 (doesn’t it seem crazy to see a number like that?!).  There have also been episodes about adoption, babysitting, and how to behave around a baby — throughout the various seasons. Last I checked, both of these shows were available on Amazon Prime for free (if you don’t have that, you can get a free 30-day trial here)

Make your toddler feel special

Bringing home a new baby that everyone oohs and ahhs over can quickly leave your toddler feeling like yesterday’s lunch — old and forgotten.

Part of this is inevitable. You can’t stop other people from fawning over a new baby, and you shouldn’t. A new baby is exciting and deserves a loving welcome.

However, you need to be intentional about including and remembering your toddler in this process. Up until just a few days ago, they were the baby, and in most houses, the baby calls the shots.

As evidence of this, I submit a recent conversation from our household:

[Toddler banshee-shrieks for the 400th time]

Me, to older siblings: Why is he crying?!

8 year-old: He wants my Nerf gun.

Me: Well FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS, please just give it to him!

(No, I don’t recommend this parenting strategy, but desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m all about honesty.) 

toddler playing with a nerf gun

Once a newborn enters the picture, the newborn calls the shots.

Baby cries, you feed him.

Baby cries, you change him.

Baby cries, you pick him up.

–And toddlers don’t particularly like any of this. 

Help your toddler feel special by praising them for being a good big brother or sister.

Comment on how loving and helpful they are. Give them special Big Sibling presents (after all, the baby gets a crap-ton of stuff and toddler’s notice). Give them special privileges and emphasize that those privileges are because of their Big Kid status.

Let your toddler help with the new baby

This is related to the previous section — one way to make your toddler feel special is to let them help.

Newborns require a ton of work and toddlers want to be included. To be clear, most of their help will be very unhelpful to you, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. 

Have your toddler bring you diapers or burp cloths. Allow your toddler to help you burp or feed the new baby.

When your toddler wants to hold the new baby, let them (with careful supervision of course. A toddler is basically a walking newborn death trap.). 

toddler helping feed new baby brother

Go out of your way to praise your toddler for all their assistance. I mean over-the-top praise –the kind of praise that almost nauseates you when you hear your own voice.

Toddlers love to please their parents (yes, even if your toddler is a hell-raising maniac) and praising them helps them feel loved.

Carve out special bonding time just for your toddler

In the same vein, you need to intentionally make time for your toddler. I stress the intentionality because without it, it’s easy to let that slide.

Even if you’re spending all day, every day with your toddler, that doesn’t necessarily qualify as bonding time (at least in the eyes of your toddler). 

For me, by the time I was done nursing, changing, and rocking a fussy newborn to sleep, I desperately wanted no one else to touch me. I may or may not have Googled “fantasy vacations for one” with my one free hand on my phone while nursing.

While I love my toddler dearly, I had to consciously make myself call him over and suggest that we cuddle and snuggle once the baby was down. I made it a priority because I know how important it is for him to still feel loved and connected.

It’s much easier to suggest that one-on-one time when the baby is sleeping, because if you don’t, the toddler will constantly seek that attention while you’re taking care of the new baby. Then you’ll have to say “no” or ask him to wait and that’s ten times harder (for both of you). 

playing board games with toddler after new baby arrives
Board games are another easy way to bond with your toddler while caring for a new baby. This post runs through some great board games for ages 2-4!

Another way to make sure your toddler still gets special time with you is to recruit help for your new baby. Leave the baby with dad, the grandparents, or a friend for an hour or two (or maybe even longer, if you’re formula-feeding or exclusively pumping).

It may not seem like a lot of time, but for a toddler, it’s plenty. Then you can do something together that you both will enjoy (a walk to the playground, a trip for ice cream, etc.)

This special time and connection is so important for helping a toddler understand that, while there may be a new baby on the scene, they have not been (and will not be) replaced.

You have plenty of love to go around, even if you don’t always have enough hands!

Be prepared for new baby backlash from your toddler

You may think everything is going beautifully. Your daughter just adores her baby brother. Your son loooooves his new baby sister so much. And that’s probably true. 

But toddlers are fickle, fickle creatures.

The same way they can flip from sweet little cherubs to rage-filled maniacs at the wrong color sippy cup, they can flip on the whole baby situation.

Don’t panic if, seemingly out of nowhere, your toddler starts developing an attitude toward the new baby.

For this same reason, you should never leave your toddler alone with the new baby. One minute it’s all fun and games, but the next, your toddler could be trying to step on the baby (that’s a true story from yours truly–it happened in our house just last month). 

toddler slapping his new baby brother
My toddler slapping his baby brother. It’s not all sunshine and roses.

Understand that this is just a phase and it’s completely normal. Basically, all toddlers are somewhat pathological narcissists. Continue setting limits, modeling appropriate baby behavior (so, you know, not stepping on the baby), and showing love to your toddler. It will pass.

*Along this same vein, toddler naughtiness tends to increase in other ways after you bring home a new baby. In addition to baby-proofing, you may want to make sure you’ve adequately toddler-proofed your home as well.

Cut yourself a lot of slack

Bringing home a new baby is hard work all on its own.

Dealing with a toddler (and possibly other kids) and a newborn at the same time can feel borderline impossible at times. If you’re doing your best to meet everyone’s needs, that’s all anyone can ask. 

As someone who’s introduced a toddler to a new baby three times now, I’ll tell you that sometimes I handled it great. Other times…

Other times, I handled it like someone who could make an appearance on Jerry Springer (or Dr. Phil, or whatever the current daytime talk show equivalent is these days). Either way, everyone here survived — and you will too!

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

A Letter to My Oldest Child, When I Forget You’re Still Little, Too

What is my Toddler Saying? A Hilarious Toddler Translation Guide

Hilariously Helpful Life Hacks for New Parents Baby Books SHOULD Include

25 Funny Pregnancy Quotes Every Mom Will Appreciate

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